Same-sex couples to have rights protected
The Government will draft legislation protecting the legal rights of same-sex couples if a private member's Bill to outlaw gay marriage is passed.
Acknowledging there were a lot of “ifs” before that point was reached, Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs, maintained the Progressive Labour Party would stick to its election platform, which promised same-sex couples the same legal rights as heterosexual couples, except marriage.
Mr Brown also suggested that debates in the House of Assembly should not go on past midnight because the “quality of the discussion went downhill” after that point but instead should end at a mutually agreeable time arranged by party whips.
Government MP Wayne Furbert reiterated last month that he would bring his Bill to outlaw gay marriage back to Parliament in September and said he expected it to pass.
“Our position is that same-sex couples should have all the legal rights of heterosexual couples, save for marriage,” Mr Brown said.
“If the private member's Bill is successful, then we will draft and table legislation to ensure that same-sex couples have those rights enshrined in the law. At present there is no need for this to be done due to the ruling by Justice Charles-Etta Simmons.”
Mr Brown added: “There already exists a Bill, the Civil Unions Bill, which would have similar elements to what is needed, although it obviously would not be called that. That was an OBA Bill that was distributed to all MPs, but never tabled officially.”
MPs will return to the House of Assembly on September 8, with the first order of business being the appointment of the Speaker.
Mr Brown described the PLP's return to Parliament as an “exciting but sobering responsibility”, and maintained that despite the Government's huge majority the Opposition still had an important role to play.
He said: “For those who have committed themselves to public service it is not the raw desire for power that is appealing but the ability to shape the destiny of your country.
“Parliament works when you have a Government that is challenged by an Opposition. We need to have a robust debate that gives the public some level of insight into the issues. That is how the system works.
“It is more to do with the quality of debate than the numbers they have — they can still put up a robust Opposition.
“If they had two it would be an issue, but 12 is enough to provide that level of debate.”
Mr Brown told The Royal Gazette that he believed there were areas of Parliamentary procedure that needed to be looked at.
“I don't think we can have a productive debate at 3am,” he said. “It's an endurance test rather than about the quality of the debate.
“After midnight the debate goes downhill. Perhaps there could be a mutually agreed cut-off time between 10pm and midnight that is agreed between the whips.
“Some of the processes are also inappropriate for a 21st-century Parliament and raise challenges based on the freedoms enshrined in the constitution.”